So, last Sunday morning I did something I’d never before attempted. During the morning service, rather than filling my usual spot in the pulpit teaching our congregation, I volunteered to work in the nursery at our church. This was something that I deliberately chose to do after serious contemplation and for a number of reasons. Thankfully, I have a very capable exegete in Vinh Nguyen upon whom I can call when I need to be away from the "sacred desk."
Transparency time: We have a great church. It is a spiritually growing
congregation that I believe to be deepening in both its orthodoxy and
orthopraxy. I've seen and been very proud of the maturation and expansion of
certain important and exciting areas of ministry (after a time of purposefully
pruning and jettisoning unnecessary and un/underappreciated
"ministries"). However, for a number of years, I have noted in our
church (and in many other local congregations) a tendency for people to
shy away from service in our nurseries. Volunteer will often line up for any
number of church ministries yet appear to be scared to death of "doody
Why I did it...
First, I did this because I was comfortable knowing that my pulpit would be
well handled in my stead. I know that many of us guard with great care
those who speak from dais over which we have charge. I also am aware that not every
pastor has staff members on whom they can call to fill in during his absence. Living
in a seminary town is also quite spoiling with a vast supply of students champing
at the bit for an opportunity to preach (although surprisingly few of
those guys are ready to be given the nod to fill the vacancy). Pastors need to know that the pulpit
ministry can and should function perfectly in his absence. Pastor, trust
someone to take your place from time to time.
Second, our children are important. We trumpet this truth regularly. Because
of the great relationship our church has with our city police department we are not
charged for criminal background checks for those who work with our kids.
Everyone who assists with minors must submit to a background check. Obviously,
not every infraction disallows a person from serving in the children’s ministry
(were that the case, your pastor would be unable to serve). We want our
children and their parents to feel protected and safe. Thus, we take every
caution to care for these little ones. They ARE important to our church, not as
the church of the future, but as part of the congregation’s body at present. I
want our body to know that our kids are important to our pastor as well.
Third, I wanted to set an example. 1) I should be the chief servant.
I am learning more and more I am not needed and that’s a good thing. I know
that sounds funny after 17 years of pastoring but it is a continually sobering
and subsequently enjoyable lesson I’m still learning. In serving we lead. Shepherding
is the pastor’s job. The shepherd serves the sheep regardless of whether or not
the sheep see it and appreciate the work. 2) I should not ask you to do anything
I am not willing to do. It might look, from time to time, that the pastor
is up there throwing out lofty pieties and laborious imperatives while being out of touch
with what goes on in the pew. Pastors must remember if we are to earn
the trust and respect of the congregation, we must act out the same things we
are espousing from behind the podium (really, that should be a no-brainer). 3) Everyone should be willing to
submit to all areas of ministry if needed and that includes me. Look, not
every ministry is for every person. However, there are certain ministries that
are what I call “need based” ministry that require the help of even those “not
called” to the particular area--such is the nursery. I want to be an example of what it means to
submit to opportunities we might not be comfortable doing but which need to be done
for the benefit of the greater body.
What I learned...
First, I noticed that time passed exponentially faster in the nursery than
it does in the pulpit. I’m not kidding. On average I speak for 40 minutes each
Sunday morning. It seems like it is a long time to me (I can only imagine what
it feels like to those listening to me for that amount of time). ;) Yet
in the nursery, maybe because of the company I kept that Sunday, maybe because
we had no great meltdowns, maybe due to the newness of the experience, time
just flew by. I’d think the problem would be KEEPING people from wanting to
volunteer in that area since time seems to pass so quickly. Granted, I know that it is not
always that easy (I mean I didn’t change a diaper the whole time and had fun
playing with the kids) but it really was an enjoyable way to pass the time all
while serving an important role.
Second, I learned what went on in the nursery. The thought occurred to
me, how few pastors really know what is going on in other areas of church
life. This was an important area of ministry of which I had no practical
knowledge. Sure, I’ve heard reports, caught wind of complaints from time to
time, was apprised of regulations and needs, but I didn’t really know what went
on in there. I am thankful to report that good things are happening. Our kids
are being well cared for, they seem to be having fun and mommy and daddy are
offered some time to focus on the sermon.
Third, I learned to better appreciate those who give of their
time to serve in the nursery. My time there helped me to better appreciate those who serve and I came to learn what those volunteers give up to care for our little ones. These folks have good ideas and I’m
looking forward to changes and upgrades to this area of ministry. I’m thankful
for those who have served and will serve in the nursery ministry of First
Baptist Church, Westwego.